Chairs and the unexpected Collective Infrastructure
“On Peng Chau island, the mysterious choreography of chairs in the outdoor public spaces tints the atmosphere with romanticism. This curious liveliness is an invitation to look beyond appearances: we shed light on this ordinary sitting device to explore its overlooked community-fostering properties. Take a seat and let us tell you this story.” Founded by Peng Chau residents Kit Chan and Myriem Alnet, the independent magazine Islanders enquires into the outlying islands of Hong Kong, their people, and organic lifestyles. The magazine is published in the form of map-zine with a simple design and the cute illustrations by UUendy with the goal being to give people a new and profound understanding of Peng Chau. So what’s going on on this tiny island that occupies an area of about one square kilometers and houses almost 6500 residents?
Peng Chau might not be the most lively and charming place on the map, but there is a public space on the island that connects the visitors and the islanders together, fostering a sense of community and facilitating chance encounters. The aforementioned public space is a spontaneous creation by the islanders that consists of over 200 self-managed communal chairs. The islanders and visitors can sit down to chat and rest, and even use the chairs for exercising. Some people think that chairs represent the meaning of taking a pause, and that sitting on a chair represents taking a break during a journey. If that’s the case, the people and things that we encounter while sitting on a chair would be particularly memorable.
M: Myriem Alnet
1/ 為甚麼會有辦 《islanders 島民》的想法？為甚麼是一本實體的雜誌？
2/ 《islanders 島民》是怎樣誕生的？過程有沒有遇到困難或難忘的經驗？
K: 坪洲是一個實而不華嘅地方，這裡大部分的人都很安靜內歛，沒有人會刻意地嘩眾取寵，引來別人的目光。若你漸漸地了解這裡的人，便會找到鄰居們的與眾不同！例如今期訪問的對象Géraldine Borio，就是因陸日小店而認識的。開始時我們只是點頭之交的街坊，認識好一段時間後才發現她在港大任教建築；再過了一段日子，才知道她正正是以坪洲空間作為她在大學研究的項目。因此，她也順理成章地成為我們今期的受訪對象。
4/ 這期map-zine的主題是探討島嶼的社區空間，為甚麼有這個構思？ 對你來說，這裡的社區空間有甚麼特別？
M: 這裡有一種社區的氛圍，每個人都是社區的一份子，同時貢獻著社區。好像香港的任何一個地方，公共空間被個人、自發性地被使用著，但同時，這裡也有一部分人共同地創造一個共享的空間，並共同地使用著，這種現象更為罕見。 無論是個人動機還是集體動機，為社區一直貢獻著的人始終是一些無名氏，也沒有人期望從中獲得讚揚，同時表達了居民對島上社區生活的想像。 這種對「公共」的想像是非常獨特的，需要被加以強調。
1/ Where did the idea of Islanders come from? And why did you choose to make it a printed magazine?
K: We hope to give an alternative option to the only way of development in Hong Kong. Information can easily be shared online, but we try to develop concepts, and the print out format is more fit for that.
2/ How did the Islanders come into shape? Did you encounter any difficulties or unforgettable experiences during the process?
K: The original idea was to produce a map-zine to introduce the local Peng Chau community. But maybe because Peng Chau is such a small island, the trial publications were not that interesting. We did think of giving up, but then realized it’s because of the tiny size of Peng Chau that makes it possible to produce such a unique map-zine.
M: Islanders is the product of a reflection on our slow integration into a closed community. It took time before we can put the finger on what we actually want to say or do.
3/ The current issue of Islanders centres on the small shop, Sun Sat Store. Having resided in Peng Chau for quite some time, how do you feel about this place? What impresses you the most? Is there anything particularly interesting or memorable?
K: Peng Chau is a place that has a subtle beauty. Most of the people are quiet about themselves, no one is bragging out, trying to get attention. Little by little you get to know its people and find out your neighbours are actually exceptional! For example, I got to know this issue interviewee, because of the shop. A regular customer, lovely neighbour, it’s only slowly that I find out she teaches in Hong Kong University and looks at Peng Chau as both a research field and a living place.
4/ The current issue explores the community space of the island. How did this idea come up? What is special about the community space here?
M: There is a sense of community, belonging to the community and contributing to the community. Like everywhere in Hong Kong, public space is occupied by private, self-motivated initiatives. But there is also, which is more rare, a layer of occupation for the commons/for collective use. Either individually or collectively-motivated, the contributors are always anonymous, no one is trying to get credit from it, and also express a vision of residents about community life on their island. This vision of the “commons” is quite exceptional and needs to be highlighted.
M: 從本質上來說，島嶼存在著很多的限制， 島上的居民要以創意的方法去解決遇上的限制。在這過程中，他們在島上落地生根。人們必須依附在他們的土地之上，但更重要的是，這是我們作為生態系統裡的一部分的一種生活方式。我們每天都在從中學習，尤其是從我們開始為map-zine進行研究以來。我確信我們可以找到一個尊重社會環境、平衡的生活方式。
5/ There is this section called “Islander Dialogue” in the map-zine. What do you think of the relationship between islands and people? What kind of inspiration and reflection does it bring to you?
M: The island by its very nature imposes a lot of limitations. Its residents have to deal with it in a creative way and by this very process they anchor to the land. There is an attachment of people to their territory, but also, and more importantly, a way to live as part of an ecosystem. We learn from it everyday, notably since we started our research for the map-zine. I really believe we can find here a balanced lifestyle respectful of our milieux.
6/ What do you hope this map-zine can bring to the people on the island and outside of the island? What are their reactions or impressions to this map-zine?
M: We hope people living on the island can have a better understanding of the strengths of this community and know how to integrate/respect it. Because the things we highlight are incremental, made by people, the balance is very fragile. Too much tourism, gentrification and misuse can break the balance. We want people both living here and outside to be aware of it. For outsiders who use the map-zine to travel to the island, we hope they can respect people living here, and stop considering islanders as backward. For urban studies nerds, we hope to contribute to showing examples of sustainable lifestyle, commons-oriented development. We didn’t have much critical feedback until now, which is not helping much to improve the product. If you get some please share to us!
7/ What other topics do you want to explore? Design-wise, will there be any difference from the first issue?
K: We will continue to explore the basic aspects of life on the island. The design will be different for each issue, but the overall style will stay the same.